This website is primarily for anyone who cruises between the Mull of Kintyre and the Small Isles north of Ardnamurchan. It may also be useful for people who travel by land as so much of this part of Scotland is by the sea. The website is not completely complete, in the sense that there are still some 'official' anchorages in the Clyde Cruising Club Sailing Directions missing (but I have added a few extras, largely thanks to Antares charts). Anyway, websites are never 'finished', this one will certainly go on growing as I find out more and more, and get feedback. In fact, it was originally conceived as a book, but that was because I had the idea so long ago (like in the 20th century) that the internet hardly existed, and certainly internet access from the West Coast was nothing like as good as it is today (who had heard of smart phones and ipads iback then?).
This site is not about how to get to the anchorages which is well described in the Clyde Cruising Club sailing directions and on the Antares Charts, but about what to see and do after you have anchored or, these days increasingly and rather boringly, tied up to a mooring buoy or a pontoon. So it is dedicated to those hardy folk who still leap forward to pull up the anchor while the skipper shouts encouragement, or abuse. Indeed, trying to combine sailing directions with what I am trying to do here is a mistake. The books become too big and glossy, the rocks get obscured by the pubs as it were, and they are not at all easy to fold over to the correct page, and weigh down with a winch handle in the cockpit as you enter a tricky anchorage. Unlike the first version of the website, here I have described the anchorages within each of the 22 areas (Gigha, Sound of Mull etc) on PDFs which contain relevant links, and they can be downloaded or printed.
I suppose it must have been in the mid 1990s that I realised there was a gap in the information for sailors on the west coast of Scotland, and indeed in many other places as well. The admirable Clyde Cruising Club Sailing Directions tell you how to get to the anchorages, where the rocks are, where to anchor and so on. The tourist and travel books are all well and good, but tend to ignore the places you can only get to by boat, and anyway they are written largely for people in cars (and get out of date rather fast). The reference books are mostly too bulky to keep on board. In short, there was and amazingly still is, a gap in the middle — a concise and accessible account of what to see and do when you get to an anchorage (not just lounge about on board drinking and eating without even bothering to inflate the dinghy). Of course you can load your boat up with various books, but they take up space, some you wouldn't want to risk getting wet, and anyway there would be too much searching about to find what you wanted. And crucially these days, the internet provides connectivity to a whole host of useful websites — you will find links on the PDFs.
And to be sure, there is loads to see and do, unlike in the early 18th century when Daniel Defoe in his ‘Tour thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain’ wrote: “... we did not go over to those islands personally, neither was it likely any person whose business was mere curiosity and diversion, should either be at the expense, or run the risk of such a hazardous passage where there was so little worth observation to be found”. Not true! However, it was not until after Boswell and Johnson's famous tour in 1773 that people began to realise what treasures there were to be seen, followed by the explosion in rather up-market Highland tourism in the 19th century inspired by Walter Scott and Queen Victoria who made one of her homes in Balmoral Castle.
What are my credentials for this self-imposed task? Well, I was a neurologist all my professional life but that did include a lot of writing (of books and papers) and editing (of a scientific journal for 10 years). I have sailed in the area since 1959 when my father chartered an old wooden boat on the Clyde for a week. Then, from 1974 I chartered every year before buying my own boat (with a good friend and colleague in Dundee) in 1988 when I moved from Oxford to Edinburgh for reasons which were not entirely unconnected with sailing in what is undoubtedly the best cruising area in the British Isles, probably in Europe, and maybe in the world.
It is indeed odd how sometimes when I was sitting aboard Calypso, our Contessa 32, and since 2010 Pickle our Rustler 36, I catch myself imagining there is a time difference between the west coast of Scotland and the rest of the country, so much so that I wonder what the time is back at home in Edinburgh. This must be to do with the other-worldness of the West Coast, or maybe because to me it has so often been associated with holidays in distant Scotland when I lived in land-locked Oxford. Indeed, a weekend on the boat still feels like a holiday. Amazingly much of what I describe on this website is physically connected to England by road and rail, you could walk it from London if you had the time. And yet England feels very far away.
Although I worry a bit, I doubt if this website will lead to loads of boats cluttering up small and obscure anchorages which happen to have something interesting about them. After all, there are so many, well over 200 in this area alone, and still counting. What is more, so many boats hardly leave their pontoons, and a lot of those that do — and the charter boats — tend to head for the honeypot anchorages like Tobermory, Arinagour on Coll, Canna, Loch Drumbuie, Loch Aline, Puilladobhrain and the Tinker’s Hole.
Spelling of Gaelic place names
This varies, even between contemporary sources such as the Sailing Directions, OS Maps and charts. Even Gaelic dictionaries cannot always be relied on. This is a nightmare, particularly for me as a very bad speller, noted in my very first school report aged seven. The variation seems largely due to translation from Gaelic (which really does have difficult spelling) into English over the years. So is it mor, or mhor, or vhor, all I think meaning big? No, I believe it should be mòr, but if there is a Gaelic scholar out there, do get in touch and put me right. Sometimes the variation seems just plain whimsical. But one should not be surprised. Scottish Gaelic, which probably developed from the Irish Gaelic, was not really a written language until the 17th century. As late as 1773 Samuel Johnson observed "Whoever therefore now writes in this language, spells according to his own perceptions of the sound, and his own idea of the power of the letters". So there you are, chaotic!
There are a lot of people to thank for their ideas, information, help, photographs and criticisms, particularly my family who have been landed at unsuitable places, walked to non-existent beaches, sat and shivered while I took the perfect shot, and dragged around mouldering castles: Ben, Margaret, Oli, Lucy, William, Ilona and Cathie. Others who have been a great help include the Fox family (all five of them in their ridiculously small 25ft yacht) and of course Richard Roberts who was the co-owner of Calypso, our Contessa 32 from 1988 when coincidentally we both moved from England to Scotland, until 2010 when we both retired and bought a new boat each. It was Stuart Taylor, a publisher, who suggested that a website would be more appropriate than a book, and Steve Druitt — a frequent crew somewhat prone to sea seasickness — who drew the maps.
And thank you to all those who have responded to my open invitation to put me right in various places, and particularly those who have pointed out some really very silly mistakes. Luckily one can correct a website instantly, unlike a guidebook.
There are no commercial interests on this site, no payment has been made to anyone, there is no sponsorship — and no advertising (apart from my own book on the Home Page). How can this be? Because writing it is pure fun, and I am lucky enough to be on a final salary pension — remember those?
Charles Warlow, Edinburgh, 2024.